Guest commentary: If you build it, they will park |

Guest commentary: If you build it, they will park

The time for an underground parking garage beneath Wagner Park is now! Were the 18,000 people recently in Aspen able to park? No, they just kept driving in circles looking for a nonexistent parking space.

David Stapleton served on City Council in the 1960s, and the biggest regret of his two terms is that they didn’t build a parking garage beneath Wagner in the 1960s. Stapleton now lives in Snowmass and avoids coming into Aspen because of the lack of parking.

In October 1969, Aspen mayoral candidate Joe Edwards asked, “When will Aspen become the place you left?” He warned that if action were not taken, we would see the congestion of downtown Aspen with a resultant decline in tourism and retail sales. Based on discussions with merchants, that day has come, because today, people can’t park their cars for shopping and dining, so they don’t come into town.

In July 1991, Jeffrey Evans’ opinion piece in The Aspen Times declared, “Our entire society and economy are inextricably linked to our mobility.”

Just because “they” might say it can’t be done doesn’t mean you have to listen! Climb on board, or step aside, but please don’t impede our vision to solve one of Aspen’s biggest problems — for everyone!

In December 1991, George Madsen wrote in The Aspen Times, “Cars are finally a problem here. Parking was a major political issue in the early ’70s and here we are in the 1990s.”

Christine Benedetti reported in the Aspen Daily News in October 2007 that Aspen retail shoppers were complaining, “You are forcing me to move my car every two hours.” Benedetti also reported that Steamboat Springs has no paid parking in the city core — as Steamboat has a “come-on-in-and park community.”

Brent Gardner-Smith reported in December 2009 in the Aspen Daily News that there were 850 downtown parking spaces at the time — how does that compute with the 18,000 people reported to be in town recently? It doesn’t!

Telluride had two park-and-ride lots outside of town, which offered commuters a free alternative to shuffling their cars in town. Telluride shuttles take drivers and skiers into town so they don’t have to move their cars.

In Park City, Utah, nearby garages offer free park-and-ride options.

Denver parking consultant Jeremiah Simpson said, “The intention is to get your all-day parkers into a parking garage, which allows your spaces in your core district to turn over as the average retail visit in less than two hours.”

Vail has a 2,500-space parking garage that charges for parking in the winter but in summer, parking in the garage is free, and it’s free after 3 p.m. year-round.

Mayor Bill Stirling hoped to create a “car-free Aspen” during the 1980s with parking provided outside town, but hoping people will park in an inconvenient location away from the center of town, where retail and restaurants are located, is unrealistic. People won’t leave their cars behind ­they’ll leave themselves behind! They won’t come to Aspen when they can go to other resorts that provide convenient parking for visitors.

I am calling upon the business community to mobilize efforts to persuade City Council of the importance of building underground parking beneath Wagner Park as many events and much of the retail business and restaurant business surrounds Wagner. City Hall would benefit from tax revenues from increased restaurant and retail business.

Residents of Red Mountain don’t come to town because they know they won’t be able to find parking. How much worse will the situation become when we lose another 20 parking spaces to the Aspen Art Museum? The situation has become intolerable and it’s time to take action. Creating events to promote “heads on pillows” goes hand in hand with creating places for people to park their vehicles without frustration.

Wagner Park is the most convenient and best location for underground parking, and Rubey Park is the obvious entrance for an underground garage.

Aspen had no population explosion in the ’50s when Mayor Bugsy Barnard was the first to suggest an underground parking garage. Now we do have a population explosion, and there’s no time to waste finding a solution to Aspen’s parking crisis. Parking needs to be located where people will use it. I believe Aspen’s commerce depends on it.

Just because “they” might say it can’t be done doesn’t mean you have to listen! Climb on board, or step aside, but please don’t impede our vision to solve one of Aspen’s biggest problems — for everyone!

Rick Carroll reports that 70 percent of online Aspen Times voters favor the idea (as of the newspaper’s Web poll on Monday).

I call on the Aspen business community to mobilize efforts to persuade City Council of the importance of doing whatever is necessary to create an underground parking garage — where it will be used and where it will benefit locals and visitors the most … or find an alternative solution!

I hope the business community has the vision to realize the cost (hopefully donated or private funds) and temporary inconvenience is worth the long-term benefit to the business community and the city. Let’s engage the private sector to begin digging after Ruggerfest in September and focus to get the garage completed by the Food & Wine Classic in June.

Courage, comrades!

Susan O’Neal lives in Aspen.

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